New Blood Test May Detect Heart Disease Risk

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Blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose blood levels have all become standard measurements and indicators of high-risk patients. Similar to troponin, C-reactive protein, or CRP, is a general marker for inflammation and infection, which can be used as a rough proxy for heart disease risk. But this is not a very specific prognosis since many things can cause an elevated CRP, including bacterial infections, burns and viral infections.

Dr. Robert Bonow, chief cardiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that while important, more work is needed.

"[This study] needs to be reproduced in other large patient registries," said Bonow. "But it certainly could change practice and replace other tests."

Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, president-elect of the American Heart Association and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said that once the study has been reproduced and all is found to be safe and clear, the test could be used in a variety of ways. The measures could be incorporated into a person's overall risk predictor or worked into a person's normal blood work.

But doctors say it is important to note that troponin tests do not measure specifics in the same way that blood pressure and cholesterol tests do. Moreover, if a person is found to have high protein levels, each person must be treated individually.

Early Detection of Heart Problems: What Happens Next

"What happens next changes from person to person," said Tomaselli. "We may more aggressively treat other risk factors, or if you have blood pressure that is a bit high, we might be more aggressive in treating it with medication or prescribing an exercise program to treat it."

And with more standard testing comes more standard costs. Dr. Gordon Ewy, professor of cardiology and director of the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, said that there is always a cost-effectiveness concern when a new medical laboratory test is introduced.

"This is especially relevant during the national debate on health care costs," said Ewy. "It will take some time for physicians to determine when the test should and should not be measured."

Ewy went on to say that the test should not be used on anyone with known renal disease, coronary disease, or congestive heart failure as the test will come out positive and may lead to unnecessary additional tests.

"On the other hand, in asymptomatic individuals, [the test] will probably become an important marker," said Ewy. "Perhaps more important than genetic testing."

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